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In this new memoir, Judy Fong Bates returns to the lives of her parents, Chinese launderers in small-town Ontario, who also served as the inspiration for her novel, Midnight at the Dragon Café, and her collection of stories, China Dog. Here, she begins her investigation of her parents’ bitter relationship by asking a simple question: Can children ever really know their parents?
For Bates, the answer, at first, is no. Her knowledge of her father is limited to the bare facts of his life: his escape from extreme poverty and arrival in Canada in 1914, where he was forced to pay the infamous head tax and came to so despise his lowly existence that he finally hanged himself in a row house in Toronto’s Chinatown.
But her understanding of her parents’ lives is turned upside down when her elder half-sister suggests a family trip to China. Bates and her husband travel to a rural part of China where they are greeted by villagers who still remember her father’s generosity and his special status as the returning guest from far-off Gold Mountain.
Bates is even more surprised by what she discovers about her mother. A daughter from a respectable family, her first marriage was to an opium-addicted “no-good man.” She survived the Japanese invasion of China, fleeing Nanking with a two-year-old in tow, and subsequent Communist takeover. Her marriage to the widower from Gold Mountain, who had hired her more than a decade earlier to teach school in his village, was not an act of practicality, but the result of a far more interesting secret.
This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching memoir. Bates shifts masterfully between various times and places, from her mother’s arrival in Vancouver by propeller plane in 1955 to her family’s return to China more than 50 years later. She confronts her own prejudices, finally realizing that the years she spent with her unhappy parents were in fact a gift from two people who had suffered greatly.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
A Globe and Mail Best Book
"Brilliant, affecting. . . . This is one of those rare memoirs where the reader never wants the book to end."
--The Globe and Mail
"Stunning. . . . It's an achingly beautiful book with one of the finest, most grabbing openings in recent memory."
--The Vancouver Sun
"An elegant and honest portrayal. . . . Written with simple, heartfelt prose, this memoir is packed with shocking revelations, truths, losses, shame, discrimination and ultimately love."
"A beautiful, heart-wrenching memoir."
--Quill and Quire
“With the elegant brush strokes of a miniaturist, Judy Fong Bates constructs, out of the debris of her family’s past, a poignant understanding of both her own ancestry and the passage we must all take to comprehend ourselves. The Year of Finding Memory is an engrossing account of that journey, which seeks, in the end, happiness and peace.”
— Shyam Selvadurai, author of Funny Boy
“With admirable heart, Judy Fong Bates portrays the ever-present desire to make sense of our origins. She conjures unforgettable images of a childhood on two continents, and of two unhappy parents, who, even after the last page, we long to know, if only fleetingly, found love between them.”
— Denise Chong, author of The Concubine’s Children
“The most accurate and heartfelt account that I’ve ever read of what it’s like to explore the Chinese countryside in search of your roots. Judy Fong Bates captures the beauty of the villages, the sense of returning home to a place you’ve never been, the heartache, joy, understanding and longing, and that very real there-but-for-the-grace-of-God emotion that you experience in meeting your relatives who were left behind. Beautiful!”
— Lisa See, author of Shanghai Girls and Peony in Love
From the Hardcover edition.